Autism is a serious condition which affects numerous children and impacts their entire lives at times, making them unable to function properly in society. Doctors, parents, scientists, and policymakers have for a long time been searching for effective autism treatments and tried to establish regulations in this sphere. Gluten and casein-free diets, chelation, and hyperbaric chambers are commonly used to treat autism symptoms in children, and they have been studied extensively. Results of the research show that gluten and casein-free diets are not effective in reducing autistic symptoms, while chelation and hyperbaric chambers may help patients in certain situations.
Gluten and Casein-Free Diets
Gluten-free and casein-free diets are considered to be among the most popular treatments for autistic disorders in children and adolescents. Although there are many pharmacological and behavioral interventions capable of alleviating symptoms of autism, parents often choose alternative methods such as feeding children gluten-free diets as a complementary treatment (Piwowarczyk et al., 2017). Basically, many people believe that isolating gluten and casein from the daily food intake of children can yield significant results in terms of their health improvement. The use of such diets in situations involving autism was caused by the idea that gluten and casein contribute to the excessive opioid activity in the nervous system, negatively impacting it (Piwowarczyk et al., 2017). Thus, many parents continue to hold such beliefs and decide to remove gluten and casein from the diets of their autistic children.
The effectiveness of the diets in question has been discussed and explored on numerous occasions, and there are many studies which nevertheless produced different results. Early research on the topic of gluten-free and casein-free diets undertaken by Norwegian scientists demonstrated that they improved certain behaviors of autistic children and reduced the incidence of epileptic seizures (González-Domenech et al., 2020). As a result, research made a conclusion that the two ingredients were actually responsible for the worsening of autistic symptoms. Nevertheless, numerous modern studies discovered that gluten-free and casein-free diets do not produce any positive effects on the health of children and adolescents with autistic disorders (González-Domenech et al., 2020). In fact, researchers did not identify any changes in the behavior of the patients nor in their urine concentration.
Based on the existing studies, it is possible to conclude that gluten-free and casein-free diets are not effective in treating autistic spectrum disorders. There is, certainly, research which discovered that such diets could potentially positively impact the health of the subjects. Nevertheless, the majority of recent studies show that the diets in question are unable to cause any favorable changes in the behavior of autistic children.
Chelation is another form of complementary alternative medicine used in cases involving children with autistic spectrum disorders. Chelation itself constitutes a procedure which helps to remove heavy metals from the bloodstream of a person (DeFilippis, 2018). Chelation therapy was proposed as a possible treatment option based on the idea that autistic disorders occur due to the high presence of heavy metals in the blood of children (DeFilippis, 2018). Thus, many doctors decided to prescribe chelation as a means to improve the health of children with autism through the removal of toxic metals from their bodies. Many parents continue to utilize such an alternative treatment method to this day and believe that it can help their children.
Chelation as a treatment for autistic spectrum disorders also was extensively studied and explored in order to determine whether it produced any positive health outcomes. The hypothesis that chelation can help resolve the problem in question dates back to the end of the 1990s, when MMR vaccines were linked to the development of autism in children (Alhujaili, 2019). Nevertheless, the existing results on the use of the therapy remain unclear. In one study, a certain number of participants actually experienced an improvement in their autistic symptoms, while 11% of the children encountered worsening of their condition (DeFilippis, 2018). Moreover, chelation therapy can be potentially dangerous and cause cardiac arrhythmias and hypertension, as well as death (Alhujaili, 2019). Thus, chelation therapy must be administered carefully and only in cases when there is no risk to the health of the child.
To conclude, chelation therapy can actually benefit children with autistic spectrum disorders, but there are substantial risks related to the intervention. Moreover, since in some cases, patients experienced a worsening of their symptoms, more studies are necessary. Overall, chelation should only be used after a thorough examination of the child and with the consent of several doctors.
Hyperbaric chambers are another alternative medicine approach to treating autistic disorders in children, which is widely used in health care. The intervention involves using 100% patient-inspired oxygen inside a pressurized chamber (Rizzato et al., 2018). According to the hypothesis, such conditions can increase the oxygenation of the body tissues of the patient, thus favorably affecting their health and alleviating autistic symptoms (Rizzato et al., 2018). The method is particularly popular among parents of autistic children due to the lack of any potentially harmful effects and extensive use for the treatment of other ailments.
The utilization of hyperbaric chambers for the purpose of reducing the effects of autism has been studied thoroughly. Studies show that low hyperbaric pressure can positively impact children with autistic spectrum disorders and can improve their clinical responses (Rizzato et al., 2018). The intervention is completely safe for use in children and does not have dangerous consequences for their health. Nevertheless, all the existing studies vary in their methodology; as a result, some trials discovered positive outcomes, including alleviation of oxidative stress, while others did not yield any results (Meyer, 2020). Thus, there is a necessity to study the use of hyperbaric chambers even more carefully and develop one standard methodology.
Hyperbaric chambers constitute a fairly effective way of treating autistic spectrum disorders in children, yet, it is a method which still requires considerable research. On the one hand, there are several significant studies which demonstrate that the implementation of oxygenation can improve the health outcomes of autistic children. On the other hand, there is also research which shows that the intervention is useless and does not impact the subjects in any way. Therefore, hyperbaric chambers may be offered as a viable therapy option since there is a chance that it can actually benefit children with autism.
Parents who have autistic children often wish to make them undergo alternative treatments such as gluten and casein-free diets, chelation, and hyperbaric chambers. Yet, as research indicates, the aforementioned diets do not yield any positive effects for patients. Chelation is potentially a useful intervention which, nevertheless, can lead to considerable health risks. Of all the alternative treatments, hyperbaric chambers constitute the least harmful and possibly the most effective one since oxygenation can benefit children with autistic spectrum disorders.
Alhujaili, N. (2019). Common misconceptions about autism spectrum disorder management – Review article. Saudi Journal of Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 5(11), 961–963.
DeFilippis, M. (2018). The use of complementary alternative medicine in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Psychopharmacology Bulletin, 48(1), 40–63.
González-Domenech, P. J., Díaz Atienza, F., García Pablos, C., Fernández Soto, M. L., Martínez-Ortega, J. M., & Gutiérrez-Rojas, L. (2020). Influence of a combined gluten-free and casein-free diet on behavior disorders in children and adolescents diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder: A 12-month follow-up clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 50, 935–948.
Meyer, M. (2020). Is hyperbaric oxygen therapy effective for treating autism? The Science Journal of the Lander College of Arts and Sciences, 13(2), 65–73.
Piwowarczyk, A., Horvath, A., Łukasik, J., Pisula, E., & Szajewska, H. (2017). Gluten- and casein-free diet and autism spectrum disorders in children: a systematic review. European Journal of Nutrition, 57(2), 433–440.
Rizzato, A., D’Alessandro, N., Berenci, E., Rinchi, A., Enten, G., Vezzani, G., Proietti, M., Fiorito, A., Camporesi, E., & Bosco, G. (2018). Effect of mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy on children diagnosed with autism. Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine, 45(6), 639–645.